President Donald Trump on Tuesday night nominated Judge Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court, using the first prime-time address of his presidency to fulfill a campaign pledge to name a conservative to the high court.
“I have selected an individual whose qualities define, closely defined, what we’re looking for,” Trump said in introducing Gorsuch to guests and reporters gathered in the East Room of the White House shortly after 8 p.m. “Judge Gorsuch has outstanding legal skills, tremendous discipline, and has earned bipartisan support.”
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It’s now up to the Senate to decide whether Gorsuch, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, will fill the nearly year-old vacancy left by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, a staunch conservative.
“I would only hope both Democrats and Republicans can come together for the good of the country for once, for the good of the country,” Trump said.
Gorsuch, after being introduced by Trump, said: “Standing here in a house of history, and acutely aware of my own imperfections, I pledge that if I am confirmed I will do all my powers permit to be a faithful servant of the Constitution and laws of this great country.”
“Justice Scalia was a lion of the law,” he added. “Agree or disagree with him, all of his colleagues on the bench shared his wisdom and his humor. And like them, I miss him.”
Gorsuch, 49, brings a strong record on gun rights and religious freedom, and what admirers call a clearly articulated judicial philosophy.
“Judge Gorsuch has sterling credentials and is highly regarded by anyone who has read his opinions,” Ed Whelen, president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a conservative think tank, told The Daily Signal. “He is a brilliant writer and a deep thinker.”
Last March, President Barack Obama appointed another appeals judge, Merrick Garland, to fill Scalia’s seat. Democrats unsuccessfully pressured Republicans to confirm the election-year nomination.
Republicans never advanced Garland out of the Judiciary Committee. His nomination expired with Obama’s presidency, clearing the way for Trump to choose a successor to Scalia.
During the presidential campaign, Trump released two lists totaling 21 potential nominees and including federal judges, state supreme court judges, and one U.S. senator, Republican Mike Lee of Utah.
Over the weeks, Trump reportedly narrowed the list to appeals court judges Steven Colloton, Thomas Hardiman, Raymond Kethledge, William Pryor, and Diane Sykes as well as Gorsuch, plus Michigan Supreme Court Justice Joan Larsen. In recent days, Hardiman, Gorsuch, and Pryor were reported to be his favorites.
Gorsuch, a Colorado native, is married to Louise Gorsuch and the father of two teenage daughters. He is known to enjoy fishing, hunting, and skiing.
President George W. Bush appointed Gorsuch to the appeals court in Colorado. Before that, he was a deputy assistant attorney general at the Justice Department.
A Harvard Law School graduate, he clerked for current Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy and former Justice Byron White.
Some Senate Democrats have pledged to oppose any Trump nominee, but Gorsuch was confirmed to the appeals court by a unanimous voice vote of the Senate in 2006.
“His approach to what a judge should be is very well respected,” John Malcolm, director of the Edwin Meese III Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at The Heritage Foundation, told The Daily Signal. “He has written on a number of issues that we as conservatives care about.”
A Judicial Crisis Network brief noted Gorsuch’s decision in the case of United States v. Games-Perez, in which he wrote of “a long tradition of widespread gun ownership by private individuals in this country.”
The Supreme Court, Gorsuch added, “has held the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to own firearms and [it] may not be infringed lightly.”
In a speech published last year in Case Western Reserve University’s Law Review, Gorsuch made a strong case for textualism; it was titled “Of lions and bears, judges and legislators, and the legacy of Justice Scalia”:
Respectfully, it seems to me an assiduous focus on text, structure, and history is essential to the proper exercise of the judicial function. That, yes, judges should be in the business of declaring what the law is using the traditional tools of interpretation, rather than pronouncing the law as they might wish it to be in light of their own political views, always with an eye on the outcome, and engaged perhaps in some Benthamite calculation of pleasures and pains along the way. Though the critics are loud and the temptations to join them may be many, mark me down too as a believer that the traditional account of the judicial role Justice Scalia defended will endure.
Gorsuch ruled in two major religious liberty cases that came before the 10th Circuit challenging the Obamacare mandate that employers pay for birth control and abortion-inducing drugs for employees, siding with Hobby Lobby and the Little Sisters of the Poor in the two cases.
In a lower-profile case, Yellowbear v. Lampert, Gorsuch ruled in favor of an inmate who said prison officials denied his religious freedom by not accommodating his Native American faith.
Gorsuch also issued a decision against a Colorado campaign finance law, determining that it unconstitutionally permitted major party donors to make two contributions per election cycle, while limiting minor party candidates to receive just one donation per election cycle. There is “something distinct, different, and more problematic afoot,” he wrote, “when the government selectively infringes on a fundamental right.”